HONG KONG—A clash broke out Sunday in southern China’s Guangxi province between police and villagers who accused a factory of grabbing their land and polluting a local river, according to residents.
A local villager surnamed Huang said a large number of villagers circled the aluminum factory in Guangxi’s Jingxi county in the afternoon as employees were constructing a road nearby.
“The whole river is totally polluted [by the factory]. In additional to this, the government is helping [the factory] to grab land from us at a very low price. Even if you don’t want to sell, you’re forced to,” Huang said.
Huang said residents of Pang Ling village could no longer control their anger when factory owners took land to construct the road, leading to the confrontation which lasted through Monday.
“We were not willing to accept this, so we fought with them. They beat any villagers on the scene, even villagers aged 60 and 70 years old. Several people were left dead and more than 100 were injured. I don’t know the exact figures,” he said.
Huang said an even larger group of protesters tried to walk from the village to the county government office Tuesday to demonstrate over the number of casualties from the clash.
“On [Tuesday], we had more people. [Thousands of] villagers clashed with the police when they would not let us go to the county government office. They used tear gas, and we threw stones at them. There were only minor injuries this time,” he said.
Huang said that by Wednesday, at least 17 villagers had been arrested, adding that all roads linking to Pang Ling village have been blocked and that residents are being screened through ID checkpoints.
The clashes, he said, were set off following a number of complaints by residents that had not been addressed by local officials.
“The clashes were triggered by many things. One is environmental pollution. Another is the land grab. The third is [recent] flooding,” Huang said.
“The flooding was very serious, but the government has not taken any action for a few months now. The villagers had a lot of complaints, and the situation finally exploded.”
Another resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said he also witnessed the factory clash.
“It happened [Sunday]. The aluminum factory was surrounded. The pollution was a big problem. The villagers had an uprising,” the resident said.
“There were 1,000 or 2,000 villagers who were shouting slogans. People were everywhere. There were many armed police too, perhaps several hundred,” he said, adding that area roads had been blocked off for hours.
A staffer who answered the telephone at the Jingxi county government office said an official had been injured in the clash on Sunday.
“[The clash] was triggered when the road was diverted and [employees] clashed with the villagers. It has calmed down now. It’s OK now. Only one official was hit by a stone. He is out of the hospital already,” the staffer said.
He added that no villagers were injured or killed, nor was anyone arrested.
Another county government official said by telephone that the injured official is the director of the People’s Congress in the county.
He dismissed rumors that villagers were killed in the clashes, but said several police vehicles had been smashed.
“There were arrests, I believe. But I must say that this incident was likely the result of some outlaw elements who stirred up trouble,” the official said.
He said that “perhaps” four or five people had been arrested, but said he had no idea what resolution, if any, was made concerning the factory pollution that had prompted the protest.
The official Web site of the Jingxi government office said some people had gathered in front of the aluminum factory and vandalized the facilities.
It said government personnel and police who went to the scene of the Tuesday protests to maintain order were hit by stones, adding that authorities have tried their best to resolve the dispute.
An employee from the aluminum factory said production at the factory had returned to normal, despite the protests.
“Our production was affected and we suffered a big loss, but production was not halted,” the employee said.
He said villagers had broken into a branch factory and destroyed equipment there.
When asked about factory pollution affecting village life, the employee said that his company had done “everything in accordance with procedures,” before insisting that the interview be continued on the factory premises.
Land disputes common
Profits from new property developments in China can swell local coffers and boost tax revenues to the central government in Beijing.
China's "Regulation on Petitions," issued by the State Council, states that petitioners may voice their grievances to higher-level government offices.
But those trying to do so are frequently held in unofficial detention centers, or "black jails," before being taken back to their hometowns.
Many petitioners have spent years pursuing complaints against local officials over disputes including the loss of homes and farmland, unpaid wages and pensions, and alleged mistreatment by the authorities.
Few report getting a satisfactory result, and most say they have become a target of further harassment by the authorities.
Land disputes have spread across China in recent years, with local people often complaining that they receive only minimal compensation when the government sells tracts to developers in lucrative property deals or evicts them from their homes in downtown areas.
Attempts to occupy disputed property frequently result in violent clashes, as police and armed gangs are brought in to enforce the will of local officials.
Original reporting by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service and RFA’s Cantonese service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated by Jia Yuan and Shiny Li. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.